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How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage


Published June 23, 2014


Here's a reading (MP3) of my latest Guardian column, How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage, which examines how Hachette's insistence on DRM for their ebooks has taken away all their negotiating leverage with Amazon, resulting in Amazon pulling Hachette's books from its catalog in the course of a dispute over discounting:



Under US law (the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its global counterparts (such as the EUCD), only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon's DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you're Amazon. So while it's technical child's play to release a Hachette app that converts your Kindle library to work with Apple's Ibooks or Google's Play Store, such a move is illegal.


It is an own-goal masterstroke. It is precisely because Hachette has been so successful in selling its ebooks through Amazon that it can't afford to walk away from the retailer. By allowing Amazon to put a lock on its products whose key only Amazon possessed, Hachette has allowed Amazon to utterly usurp its relationship with its customers. The law of DRM means that neither the writer who created a book, nor the publisher who invested in it, gets to control its digital destiny: the lion's share of copyright control goes to the ebook retailer whose sole contribution to the book was running it through a formatting script that locked it up with Amazon's DRM.


The more books Hachette sold with Amazon DRM, the more its customers would have to give up to follow it to a competing store.



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